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SCHOOLS DEBATE
Mayor, council disagree on control issue
(Published April 19, 2004)

By COURTNEY BURNS and KATHRYN SINZINGER
Staff Writers

A majority of the D.C. City Council appears firmly opposed to Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ proposal to take over control of the District’s public school system, as the council prepares to vote April 20 on a new school governance plan.

Some council members expressed concern to The Common Denominator that their position on the mayor’s proposal was misconstrued last week during a press briefing at which Williams and council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5) asserted that a majority of the council is supporting or likely to support the mayor’s plan.

Orange and Evans, who said he plans to put forward the mayor’s plan for a vote during Tuesday’s legislative session, characterized council members Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), Harold Brazil (D-At Large) and David Catania (R-At Large) as joining them in solidly backing a mayoral takeover of the schools. They further portrayed council members Kevin Chavous (D-Ward 7), Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) as "leaning" toward supporting the mayor’s plan.

During subsequent telephone conversations, Fenty, Graham and Patterson told The Common Denominator they cannot support the mayor’s proposal. An aide to Chavous, who was unavailable for comment, said the council’s education committee chairman remains committed to restoring an elected school board as the governing body for the schools.

An aide to Brazil said Brazil did not attend the press briefing because "he is not 100 percent ready to commit himself" to supporting the mayor’s plan. An aide to Ambrose confirmed Ambrose’s backing for the mayor’s proposal. Catania told The Common Denominator he is backing the mayor's plan because it would limit collective bargaining agreements to wages, salaries and benefits. Neither Ambrose nor Catania attended the press briefing.

Council Chairman Linda Cropp (D) and council members Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) have all publicly expressed opposition to the mayor’s takeover plan. They were characterized at the mayor’s press briefing as being the only members of the 13-member council who are adamantly opposed to Williams’ proposal.

Williams has proposed turning the public school system into a city agency under the mayor’s control and relegating the D.C. Board of Education, which is partially elected, to being an advisory committee. Under Williams’ proposal, the mayor would appoint a "chancellor" to run the school system in much the same manner as city department heads currently function.

The council’s education committee voted out a bill on April 2 that would restore an all-elected school board as the governing body for the public schools. The bill, scheduled for consideration before the full council on Tuesday, calls for election in November 2006 of a nine-member school board whose members would take office on Jan. 2, 2007.

The mayor said during his April 14 press briefing that he is "prepared to veto" any school governance bill that varies from his proposal. Overriding a mayoral veto requires nine council votes.

Current efforts to revise the school governance structure resulted from a sunset provision included in a home rule charter amendment approved by voters in June 2000, which created the current partially elected and partially appointed school board. Under that provision, the existence of the voter-approved school board structure as part of the District’s charter expires this summer. However, a mayoral veto and failure of the council to override such a veto would largely leave intact the current school governance structure due to the council’s enactment of separate legislation in 2000 that mirrored much of the wording in the home rule charter amendment.

Copyright 2004, The Common Denominator